Watson run is no flash in the bed-pan

Tom Watson continued his serene progress through the perils of Turnberry yesterday and managed to finish with a spectacular flourish that restored him to the top of a leader-board ahead of a jostle of whipper-snappers who had threatened to usurp his place.

Whatever happens today he has already delivered an historic blow for old timers everwhere and no longer can his astounding assault on a sixth Open Championship be dismissed as a senior moment.

This is no flash in the bed-pan as anyone who witnessd his third inspirational round will testify. No-one looked more impressive than him.

Win or lose, he has sounded a bugle call that can be picked up on a ear-trumpet and he has enthused a generation whose capabilities won't be too readily dismissed in future.

It may well be a co-incidence but Seve Ballesteros, who at 53 is six years younger than Watson, announced yesterday that he would like to play in The Open at St Andrews next year.

Not long ago we were fearing for Seve's life after he had a tumour removed from his brain. He certainly wouldn't have been discouraged from thinking of a miracle comeback at this amazing display at the scene of Watson's greatest triumph thirty-two years ago.

And speaking of operations, Watson had a replacement hip only eight months ago - even medical science gets a boost from him.

While his greatest admirers were half-expecting age to begin the pursuit of this ridiculous prospect he produced a round of supreme steadiness that not even the disappearance of his name from the top of the leaderboard could disturb.

He proceeded to clamber back up with birdies the 16th and 17th gained by lengthy putts that have become a trademark of his incredible performance. His putting yardages over the three days must be some sort of a record.

And he shows no signs of wilting, either physically or mentally, as we prepare for a final day that surpass all others.

Not the least of the wonders Watson has been performing at Turnberry is that he has managed to do some high class mentoring on the side. He spent the first two rounds in the company of the youngest player in The Open, 16 year old Italian prodigy Matteo Manassero, and the boy blossomed under his influence.

The contrast between the old maestro and yesterday's playing companion, Stee Marino, was not so marked but it was still substantial.

Apart from the 30 years age gap their familiarity with these isles couldn't be more different. While Watson is regarded as family over here, Marino had never set foot in the place before last Tuesday let alone played on a links course.

Even now his experience of The Open amounts to just three rounds - Watson was playing his 110th yesterday.

But the whirlwind success of Marino's arrival on the scene after he was called up for Open duty just a week ago suffered a down-draught soon after he and Watson parred the first hole with almost identical fours.

Thereupon Marino began the shedding of five shots in four holes. The short fourth hole particulaly showed the fluster gap between the two. While Marino was fretting over another bogey Watson spent a few minutes gazing across the beach towards Ailsa Craig, calmly taking in the scenery, a study in composure.

Marino did well to pull out of the nosedive with an eagle on the seventh and a birdie on the 11th and he managed to birdie that last two but he still dropped six shots the day.

Watson, meanwhile, was progressing in an orderly fashion. His accurate driver rarely took him off the fairway but the middle of the round saw a few putts slide by and there was a slight bleakness to be felt as the younger men ahead of him began to creep up the leader board.

No one, young or old, will be doubting his ability to give them all a chase for the title today. His calmness and accuracy could well be the telling factor. As Rudyard Kipling would surely have said - If you can keep your ball while all around are losing theirs you could well win this bloody thing

Tip of the Week

No 10: The Downhill bunker shot

It's amazing how often approach shots run just under the back lip of the bunker. The difficulty here is the natural lie and stance will de-loft the club and loft is needed to clear the front lip. With your most lofted club, position the ball towards the back foot and your weight on your left side (for right-handed players). Make a steep backswing and strike down hard two to three inches behind the ball. The biggest mistake I see is players trying to lift the ball out of the sand, so make sure to keep the club in the sand for as long as possible after the ball has gone. The ball will come out fairly low and running, but anywhere out and on the putting surface from this lie is a good shot.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk

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